June 28, 2013

Here We Stand

by Mike Riccardi

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents– which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
- Philippians 1:27-30 -

Stand FirmAs I’ve been studying the Book of Philippians, I continue to be amazed at the parallels between the Philippian congregation and Christians today. The Lord Jesus Christ had called out these dear believers from the world to Himself, and rather than being devoted citizens of the Roman Empire and dutiful slaves of Lord Caesar, they were now devoted citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and were slaves and saints of the Lord Jesus (cf. 1:27; 3:20). Because the Gospel of Christ was the rule of their conduct as citizens of Heaven, they were called to a manner of life that was entirely distinct from their pagan neighbors. They were to live as “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (2:14–15) They were called to such chaste behavior and purity of lifestyle that there would be an evident difference between them and their unbelieving countrymen.

But of course, that kind of holy life always proves to be a challenge and a rebuke to those who don’t walk in the same way. Christ Himself told us that “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20). And so, since the Philippians had been rescued from the dominion of darkness and had been transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13), they began to face opposition from the world around them. And Paul’s response to this is to charge them to stand firm—to not let such persecution cause them to move an inch in their commitment to Christ and His Gospel. A paramount way in which they will conduct themselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel (1:27) is to be good soldiers, and to stand their ground at all costs. Paul tells them what he told Timothy: “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:3). He says to the Corinthians: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13).

Are You Ready?

And in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, I can’t think of any more fitting admonition for Christ’s Church at this very hour. If we can learn one thing from the political events of this week, it’s that it is plain that the Gospel we believe, the Word we live by, and the Lord we serve are no less subversive and antithetical to our world than they were to the world the Philippians lived in. As we simply seek to follow the Lord Jesus in trusting His Word and faithfully proclaiming His Gospel, opposition will come. 2 Timothy 3:12 speaks plainly: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And when it comes, the question for you is: Will you be ready? Will you heed Paul’s admonition? Will you stand firm?

Here We Stand, in a Long Line of Godly Men

The entire world of Christendom stood against Martin Luther for teaching the biblical doctrine of salvation—that a man is justified by faith alone. And when he wouldn’t kowtow to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, they put him on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor himself at the Diet of Worms, and demanded that he recant his teachings or suffer the fate of a heretic. And I trust you remember Luther’s famous words: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”

Here I StandPerhaps a less-known account is that of the martyrdom of Polycarp, one of the church fathers who was a disciple of the Apostle John, and who had served for years as the bishop of Smyrna. It’s recorded that when the Roman soldiers had stormed his house to seize him, he fed them dinner and asked if could spend an hour in prayer, which they allowed. And they took him to the arena, where he stood in the face of wild beasts that threatened to tear him to pieces. The Roman proconsul reminded Polycarp of his advanced age (he was now in his mid 80s) and promised to release him if he would swear loyalty to Caesar and revile the name of Jesus Christ. And with the lions to his left and the stake at which he would be burned to his right, he looked at the crowd who longed for his death and said, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”

And we could multiply these stories. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is filled with the accounts of faithful saints who treasured the truth even unto death. But I ask you on this day: Are you ready to stand? Are you committed to suffering hardship in this long line of godly men, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ?

An Opportunity to Magnify the Worth of Christ

You may think I’m being dramatic, but it’s just been made perfectly clear that our 21st-century Western culture is going to give us plenty opportunities to show the world that to live is Christ and to die is gain (1:21)—that we count all things as loss for the sake of the surpassing value of knowing Him (3:8)—that He is more satisfying than all that life can offer and all that death can take—because it’s going to force us to choose between faithfulness to the Lord and the worldly comforts we’ve grown so accustomed to.

The pressure on Christians and churches to abandon the biblical teaching on homosexuality, marriage, the family, men’s and women’s roles, and a host of other issues is only going to increase exponentially. And many professing Christians—maybe even some of you—are going to be tempted to soften your positions a little bit. “Well, maybe not all of the Bible is God’s Word. I mean, it was written by men. We can accept its truth on certain matters of faith, but not matters of civil disputes. After all, we’re not a theocracy, right?” “Well, maybe it’s not our place to deny ‘civil rights’ to homosexuals who want to be married. Sure, I don’t agree with it, but we can’t legislate morality, can we?”

AnchorAnd against these fine-sounding arguments, and all the various ways in which the world will press us to soften our stance on the Word of God, we need to heed the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to stand firm! To hold our ground as good soldiers of Jesus Christ! When the temptation comes to soften on a particular doctrine of Scripture, we must be ready to look that tempter in the face, to raise our copy of the Word of God, and say, “Here I stand!” When the cultural and societal and even political powers of the day demand that you renounce and revile Christ and keep up with the spirit of the times, you must stand your ground and say with Polycarp, “In all the years I’ve served Him He’s never done me wrong. How could I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Friends, we need to resolve that if persecution comes—if ridicule and accusations of bigotry and homophobia continue to come, if hardship and crippling fines and imprisonment come, if even death itself should come—we will stand firm as good soldiers of the Lord Jesus, as citizens of Heaven ruled by the Gospel of Christ.

Is He Worth It?

What I’m really asking you is: Is the Lord Jesus Christ so worthy and so glorious in your eyes that you will be able to gladly count all the things in this life that you hold dear as loss for His sake? Or will you fold? Will you yield your ground and be driven not by the Gospel, but by the ever-changing moral tides of the culture? And in so doing, prove yourself to not be a soldier of Christ at all, but as one who goes out from us because he was never really of us (1 John 2:19)?

But no, we are convinced of better things concerning you, beloved—things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way (Heb 6:9). You are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul (Heb 10:39).

So then, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come (Heb 13:13).

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Tom Howard

    Mike,

    This is easier said than done, especially coming from someone who is not directly impacted by taking a public stand.

    Why do I say this? As a full-time pastor in a conservative evangelical church, you’re not going to lose your job if you take a public stand for biblical morality or biblical theology. However, for the congregant who makes his living in the world, he may face losing his job, financial hardship, losing his property, and bankruptcy if he takes a public stand for biblical morality and theology.

    Yes, true believers should be willing to endure job loss, financial hardship, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and even death for the sake of Christ, but all I’m saying is that you as a full-time pastor don’t really have much skin in the game.

    Tom

    • http://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/ Lynda O

      I recall similar thoughts expressed by Spurgeon; it humbled him, and he expressed that those who made their living out in the world had it much harder (dealing with life issues) than he did. And Spurgeon at the time was also a young man in the ministry. It was his role then, as Mike’s now, to exhort and encourage, and equip the saints who do live and work in the world.

    • daryl.little

      Tom,

      Are you suggesting then, that pastors have no right to call their people to faithfulness in the public work-place, or that married pastors have nothing to say to singles, or that pastors have nothing to say to women in the church?

      Surely those who are called to teach and lead the flock are made ready by God to call those under their care to deal rightly with things they themselves will not face.

      As well I don’t think you’re thinking through the possible ramifications facing pastors when churches face the loss of tax-exemption status, or when hate-laws prevent faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God.

      In any case, I don’t think you’re understanding the issue. Take me for instance, I’m an Architectural Technologist (basically a mini-architect). I happen to work for myself, but even in an office setting. what are the chances that this issue would even come up, or that it couldn’t be avoided as needed in a God-honouring way? The likeihood of a mechanic or a farmer or a clerk being hit by this ahead of a pastor seem quite slim to me.

      Now a baker, or the owner of a large hall would be another issue. (Although the large hall scenario is one that churches and therefore pastors will face early and often I think.)

      • Tom Howard

        Daryl, I’m not suggesting Mike should stay silent. What I’m suggesting is that he needs to put some skin in the game. It’s just like the pastor who admonishes his people to get over their fear and share the gospel with the lost (which they should), but spends his entire week in the church office dealing with believers.

        That’s one of the benefits of being a bi-vocational pastor. Your people know you’re not just sitting in your church office typing out blog posts about how they’re supposed to live in today’s world. In my context, I work along side of homosexuals everyday (some of who are ‘married’ and have adopted children) and my employer is supportive of gay rights. So yes, this issue comes up a lot in my context.

        So, Daryl or Mike, how should I “stand firm” in my context?

        • daryl.little

          Well for starters, by not suggesting that another believer has it easier than you. It’s one thing to say that you have it easier than another, the reverse is something we need to avoid.

          In your context, unless you’re being asked (or told) to do/say things that explicitly support gay “marriage” or other uber-rights, it seems to me that you don’t need to put any more skin into the game than what is asked of you.
          Don’t look to be a martyr and don’t avoid the issue when it’s put to you head on.

          Same as Mike, same as me.

          • Tom Howard

            Daryl, given Mike’s context, its pretty safe to say he won’t get fired for speaking against homosexuality or standing firm on God’s Word. His congregants, on the other hand, aren’t afforded that same luxury.

            With that being said, I agree that all believers (regardless of context) should stand firmly on the truth of God’s Word and proclaim the gospel. The question is, should we be proactive in doing so or reactive. From your comments, it appears you’re advocating being reactive. (Note, I said reactive not reactionary.) Have I summarized your position accurately?

            Mike, do you agree that Christians in a context like mine should stand firm reactively instead of proactively?

            Tom

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            You’ll have to forgive me for saying so, Tom, but I’m rather mystified by your short-sightedness on this matter. I can’t figure out why you believe the threat of getting fired by one’s private employer is the only measure of persecution that will come of this. I agree with Daryl when he says, above, “I don’t think you’re thinking through the possible ramifications facing pastors when churches face the loss of tax-exemption status, or when hate-laws prevent faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God.”

            A pastor’s job actually requires him to preach against homosexuality, insofar as he’d seek to faithfully exposit texts like Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3, and we could go on and on. It requires him to provide counsel to his congregation about how to engage the dominating ideology of the day. It requires him to turn down the request of two men to “marry” them (or allow them to get “married”) at his church. I think if any particular vocation will be a special target for the rabidly intolerant homosexual activitsts in these coming months and years, it’s conservative evangelical pastors who believe and preach what the Bible says. Especially for those who are particularly entrusted with leading a church’s outreach efforts in the public proclamation of the Gospel, which happens to be the role I’m currently in.

            Besides this, I have to say that I’m astounded at the ease with which you presume to know how I steward my time and the extent of my interaction with unbelievers.

            In getting to the specific question you asked me, it of course depends on what you mean by “reactively” and “proactively.” In fact, your question makes me wonder if you read the original post very carefully. If by “proactively” you mean going to work every day and picking fights with people about the definition of marriage, then no, of course not. But that wouldn’t be standing firm against opposition as much as it would be instigating. Standing firm in the workplace would mean living your life and serving your employer faithfully, not hiding the fact that you are a Christian and believe that the Bible is the insipred, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, and the standard of truth and knowledge for all people, and taking the opportunities as they arise to proclaim the Gospel in the context of relationships there at work. If, as a result of those things, you face opposition from your co-workers or empmloyers, that you don’t soften your stance on the Word of God to placate them. If that means that you may be fired because your employer doesn’t want to support “homophobic bigotry,” that means you don’t soften your position or equivocate on the Word of God to save your job. Rather, it means that you count the reproach of Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings to be more satisfying than the way of compromise.

          • Tom Howard

            Mike, I don’t believe the threat of termination is the only measure of persecution that will come of this, but it is the most immediate and most harmful threat that many of your people face today and in the near future. And, it’s certainly not one you have to worry about … even if the government would take away the tax exempt status of Grace Community Church.

            As for how you steward your time or interact with unbelievers, I’ve made no presumption either way. I’m simply commenting that many pastors admonish their people on how to live and to interact in the world (and rightfully so) but they themselves spend most of their time in Christian contexts.

            I’m not suggesting that your context or experience changes the truth of what you’re saying, Mike, but it does provide credibility and shows servant leadership to your people.

            We’re on the same side, Mike. I’m just asking you to remember the soldiers you’re sending into battle.

  • kevin2184

    Hi Mike, in your quote from Polycarp “…how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who has saved me?”, the capital “W” makes it read as if Polycarp was questioning who is savior is, i.e, a stand-alone question of “Who has saved me?”. I’m not sure if the capital “W” was done in deference to the antecedent of the pronoun being God, or if it was just a typo, but I think it would read better simply typed as “…how then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” In any event, and as usual, another great post and thanks for the exhortation. I pray that I am always bold enough to proclaim the gospel no matter what people may think and no matter the consequence. See you at church. (Fee free to delete or edit my post as you desire).

  • http://michaelcoughlin.net/ Michael Coughlin

    A good an much needed word as evidenced by Tom Howard’s comment.

  • http://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/ Lynda O

    Great post, Mike, and we may indeed experience direct persecution, perhaps sooner than we realize. And yes, such persecution will reveal the difference between nominal church-goers and true believers taking a stand… already I see some of that, in nominal Christians who don’t pay attention to spiritual things or what’s going on and think even this (the Supreme Court action) is just the same as all “politics as usual,” not discerning the clear difference of when government leaders step out of the area of politics into the area of theology.

  • Englishwoman

    What is your view on Christians actively protesting (calmly & politely) at gay “marriage” ceremonies?

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      I’d counsel against it. At that point I’m asking, “What are we trying to accomplish?” I don’t think there’s a good answer to that question that is well-served by protesting individual ceremonies.

      I also think that protesting would tend to communicate a stand-offish, “us versus them” mentality. Something that Pastor MacArthur always says is to remember that unbelievers (whether they be homosexuals, pro-abortionists, etc.) are not the enemy as much as they are the mission field. If they go out of their way to make us the enemy by the kinds of persecution that have already come and will continue to increase for those who hold to a biblical morality, then we need to steadfastly stand firm and hold our ground on the Word of God. But I don’t think that we should go out of our way to make them the enemy. More than we want to see them adopt a biblical view of marriage, we want to see them repent and trust Christ for their acceptance before a holy God.

      And so in line with that, I’d suggest that a better investment of time would be in faithfully getting to know the individual unbelievers that the Lord has sovereignly placed in my path, demonstrating compassion and holiness, serving them while never affirming their sin, and intentionally proclaiming the Gospel to them in the context of that kind of relationship.

      • Englishwoman

        Thanks for your reply. Tempted as I would be to stand there with a placcard,, I think on balance your view wins!
        (I have joked in the past, that, should gay “marriage” ceremonies take place in the Church of England, When it comes to the “does anybody know of any just impediment…?”, I will be there, exclaiming: “Yes, Romans 1!” )

  • KAS

    As a Californian Christian who lives in a large city and voted for the traditional definition of marriage, I have been very encouraged at these thoughtful posts over the last few days.

    I feel like I needed this reminder today. Not only does the world need to see true Christlike commitment, but people in the church need to see other believers committed to knowing and living the word. Many Christians have become comfortable with developing a faith subculture with little challenge to their own faith, I wonder how that has affected personal growth.

    Now more than ever I feel a sense of urgency to saturate our family with scripture, not my own opinions or sense of morality. Clinging to the written Word and living out what Christ has for us, we stand out in this culture of self worship. That is not a bad thing, because even though unbelievers may not agree with our views, we are able to build relationships and show a love and peace that they are searching for in desperate ways, but know nothing about.

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      Amen, KAS. May the Lord bless you, and may your tribe increase. Thank you for your attentive reading and thoughtful comments.

  • METOWNSEND Townsend

    For too long believers in America have had an easy walk of faith; compared to those in Iran, China, India….. It appears that the time is quickly approaching when we too will be called upon to take up our cross and follow Him.

  • http://suzlt.blogspot.com/ Suzanne T

    Amen..amen! This is exactly what we need to hear, and be reminded of again and again.

    Mercy. . In a country which once boasted its founding and allegiance to the God of Scripture..these days, Biblical Christianity/Christians are fast on the way to a marginalized, even ostracized existence. This is one reason I am so thankful for the local church..

    Let the love of Christ strengthen and constrain us to the very end.

  • stowellbrown

    Being persecuted in this life is only a minute in time in the light of eternity. After 39 years of persecution for my faith by my mother-in-law, she came to faith 6 weeks before she died. God can help us pray for our enemies and do good to those who spitefully use us. I had Christian friends who helped me to be good to her.